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Gyles Brandreth, 72, has opened up on working with his long-time friend and co-host Sheila Hancock, 86, for the new series of Great Canal Journeys, which sees them take over the reins from Timothy West and Prunella Scales. The programmes follow the two pals as they explore London’s waterways including the River Thames’ upper reaches to Windsor Castle; and down the Lee Navigation, from rural Hertfordshire to the heart of the East End.

It parted just for us

Gyles Brandreth

However there was one particular moment that stood out to Gyles, and that was when the pair switched their narrowboat for a sailing barge and glided up past Tower Bridge.

Gyles recalled: “We didn’t know that was going to happen. 

“The producers had phoned the people at Tower Bridge to get permission for filming and they wanted to give us a surprise salute.

“We thought we were going to go under Tower Bridge, but as we approached, it parted just for us. 

“There were tears streaming from our eyes. It was a dream come true,” he added to this week’s Radio Times.

They also managed to make a detour on one of their journeys past Theatre Royal in Stratford, where Sheila got her first big break aged 26.

Earlier this year the friends appeared on Celebrity Gogglebox for Stand Up For Cancer.

In one of the episodes, Gyles explained to Sheila exactly what “fanny flutters” are.

The actress is best known for her stage work and also appearing in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas movie.

Recently she played the role of Mimi Vincent in 2019 TV series Delicious.

Gyles’ jobs span many genres, including TV, radio, writing and politics.

He worked as a Conservative MP from 1992-1997 and has written speeches for three Prime Ministers.

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Since the 1970s he’s written books on everything from Scrabble to English grammar.

It comes as advancing Alzheimer’s forced Prunella to pull out of Channel 4’s Great Canal Journey, which she presented with her husband Timothy.

Prunella, who is best remembered as Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, first revealed she had Alzheimer’s in 2014 but continued filming on narrowboats around the world until last year.

She and actor Timothy have sent their best wishes to Gyles and Sheila as they take over this year.

Gyles shared of his and Sheila’s new appointment: “Sheila and I don’t know anything about canals and Tim and Pru were old hands. 

“I thought we shouldn’t do it because we’re not them and everyone loves them.

“But I wrote a book a few years ago about the secrets of being happy and one of them was to embrace change.”

Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times – out now. 

Great Canal Journeys returns Sunday at 8pm on Channel 4.

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